November 5, 2014
If you’ve watched a DVD recently, it probably started with an advert highlighting that ‘you wouldn’t steal a handbag, so why would you steal a DVD?’ The point it’s making is that it’s unacceptable to buy poor quality copies of DVDs. They’re fake products and there’s a stigma attached to them, in the same way there’s a stigma attached to buying a fake watch, handbag or a forged piece of art. That’s how things should work, but this isn’t yet the case for fake furniture in the UK. And the reason for this is government inaction that is not only allowing a market for poorer quality replicas of iconic designs to exist, but to thrive. In April 2013 the UK government passed the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act, a section of which closed a loophole in British intellectual property law. Under the new regulations, artistic designs for products such as furniture would be protected for up to 70 years after the designer’s death. Before the Act was passed, if more than 50 copies of a design were made, it was considered to be mass produced and was subject to only 25 years’ protection.
In passing this legislation, the government brought the UK into line with the majority of countries in the EU. Or so you would think. Because 18 months after the legislation was passed, the regulations to close the loophole are yet to be implemented. This delay extended the life of the UK market for what are forged goods – a market that’s been offered a further reprieve by a recently closed government consultation on plans for a three year transition to the new regulations, along with an indefinite sell through for replica goods. What that means is that the manufacturers of these knock-offs would have the right to sell their remaining stock with impunity even after the transition period has ended. And of course, they’ll manufacture as much stock as they can in that time.
By delaying the implementation of these recommendations, the UK government is sending the message that it’s acceptable to purchase poor quality replicas of iconic designs. These are manufactured overseas, often bought and sold online, and only in the best case scenario are assembled in the UK. They provide little if any benefit to the UK economy, and instead take advantage of UK intellectual property rules to use Britain as a marketplace for inferior quality goods.
You would expect the government to be working to protect British designers, having accepted the need to bring its intellectual property laws into line with the majority of the EU. But this is yet to happen. And by failing to implement the regulations they have themselves introduced, British ministers have not only allowed the market for fake goods to continue, but given it legitimacy and their tacit approval.
This urgently needs to change, and it needs to start by the government and the Intellectual Property Office specifically recognising the folly of allowing fake furniture goods to continue being sold on their watch. It’s bad enough that 18 months have lapsed since the government passed legislation on the issue, but frankly inexcusable that a transition period is now being considered. A transition period was unnecessary when the legislation was passed in April 2013. Since then, the internet dealers of these fake goods manufactured overseas have had an 18 month grace period. They are hardly in need of a further three years, nor do they warrant the right to sell whatever stock they can import in that time.